JOHANNESBURG: History beckons at Randpark Club this weekend for the final two rounds of the R17,5-million South African Open hosted by the City of Joburg.
Actually, in terms of the way golf has developed over the decades, make that “ancient history” beckoning. By way of explanation: It has been 61 long years since an amateur won the SA Open, and that honour belonged to Denis Hutchinson way back in 1959. Amateurs simply aren’t meant to win professional tournaments these days, let alone national opens competing against some of the world’s best professionals. It just doesn’t happen. At least it shouldn’t happen.
But South Africa’s 18-year-old whiz kid Jayden Schaper, after the opening two rounds of this year’s championship, is on 10-under-par 132 following a superb 65 on the par-71 Bushwillow course on Thursday and an equally fine 67 on Firethorn, also a par-71, on Friday. Now he’s tantalisingly close to the lead.
Finland’s Tapio Pulkkanen tops a jam-packed leaderboard on 11-under 131 following a 66 on Firethorn but for Schaper to be just one off the pace is, in golfing terms, a massive story. So is South Africa’s hugely gifted No 1 amateur nervous going into the final two rounds this weekend? “My attitude,” he replies, “is that this is the same golf course I’ve always played in amateur tournaments and the same 14 clubs are in the bag, so why should I stress? Yes, the field is a stronger one than I’m used to but I’m not worried about the other players, I’m just out to play my own game.
”I trusted my gut out there today and finished well,” he said of his inward loop of just 31 strokes which included birdies at five of the last eight holes. “To win the SA Open would be pretty special and if the opportunity presents itself I’ll take it with both hands,” added the teenager who in the last five years has completely dominated junior golf in South Africa, and last year won the Junior Players Championship in America, the biggest junior tournament in the world.
In a touching family gesture Jayden kissed his caddie – which just happens to be his father Ryan! – after Friday’s impressive round.
The youngster’s playing partner, defending champion and tournament host Louis Oosthuizen, described Schaper’s golf over the first two days as “brilliant” while saying his own game Friday was very frustrating. “I hit the ball from tee to green as well as I can but the putts just wouldn’t drop.” Oosthuizen is on eight-under 134 and one of no less than 22 players within three shots of Pulkkanen’s lead so it’s definitely game on for Saturday and Sunday and the final 36 holes.
“I’m really happy to be on top of the leaderboard but, after birdies at three of the first six holes, I really had to grind out the pars,” said the Finn. “Today was much tougher than the opening round because we had a lot of wind out there. I’ve just come off 10 weeks of practice in America and it was such a good move to do that as I really think I found my game.”
Alongside Schaper at 10-under-par 132 are fellow South Africans Thriston Lawrence (65, with just 23 putts), Jaco Ahlers (66), Trevor Fisher Jr (67) and England’s Sam Horsfield. All played on Firethorn as did Daniel Greene who is well-placed on -9 and who put down his good golf here to getting back to basics after a heart-to-heart chat with his coach Rae Hast, the former South African amateur and professional champion, who is also his aunt.
“My confidence has been a bit low so earlier this week I had a talk with her over the phone and she gave me some swing thoughts. So before my first round on Thursday I started to hit the ball well on the range, and I went on to shoot 67 on Firethorn,” said the 34-year-old who plays out of Bosch Hoek Golf Club in the KZN Midlands, and lives in Nottingham Road.
“Rae has been teaching me golf since I was a little guy, maybe seven years old, chipping in the garden in Nottingham Road, and I owe a lot to her.” So, with his new-found confidence after a pep talk with his aunt, can he win this weekend?: “Look, we all want to win but there’s still a long way to go – a lot of golf to be played. Plus the extra pressure of this being our national open but I’ll just put that out of mind and see what happens.”
Also on nine-under are England duo Harry Hall and Jack Senior along with American Johanness Veerman who was the first round leader.
With the quality trio of Branden Grace, George Coetzee and Oosthuizen lurking just three off the pace in a big group of players on eight under, the scene is set for what is certain to be a thrilling weekend of golf.
But Sunday, could just see “ancient history” being made if Schaper wins. And one man who would be only too glad to see his record finally fall would be, that now old campaigner-turned voice of golf, Denis Hutchinson. Or “Hutchie” as we all know him and love him.
Written by Randpark Member Grant Winter.